A new concept design of an Autonomous Guard Vessel (AGV) for the offshore industry was announced by a consortium of maritime companies looking to support the offshore industry.

The novel design is smaller and lighter than most current guard vessels used to protect offshore operations and makes use of sustainable solutions, as well as exploiting the benefits of autonomous shipping. In addition, the AGV is set to operate more efficiently, as well as require lower operating costs due to no crew being required.

This project group that created the concept was facilitated by LISA, a community for maritime professionals. The project group resulted in a consortium, which includes C-Job Naval Architects, SeaZip Offshore Service, Sea Machines, and recently joined by MARIN and eL-Tec elektrotechniek BV. The consortium says that the craft is aimed at benefitting both wind asset owners and guard vessel operators.

The Autonomous Guard Vessel is specifically designed for surveillance of offshore structures throughout their life cycle, ranging from wind farms to substation platforms and cable routes. With any area that needs to be secured, the AGV can continuously monitor nearby marine traffic visually as well as via radar and AIS data. With any vessel that approaches the area, measures will be taken to secure the area in order to avoid collisions and damage to the offshore infrastructure. An intruding vessel can be communicated with and will receive information on how to safely navigate the area, as well as being physically escorted away from the site by the vessel. Additionally, the encounter will be recorded to provide video footage in case of any violation or accident.

“Guard vessels perform an essential job; however, it is not the most exciting one for crew,” said Pelle de Jong, Founding Partner LISA. “Combined with the fact that conventional guard vessels are mostly outdated and thus aren’t necessarily the most comfortable let alone sustainable, it can be difficult to find well-trained crew willing to do the job. The group set out to improve upon the overall process of securing an offshore area while incorporating sustainable solutions and reducing overall cost. By utilizing the knowledge we have as a group as well as the technology already available, we succeeded in creating a design which does this and more.”

Design considerations

As previously stated, the AGV does not require crew onboard the vessel. Therefore, accommodations can be eliminated in the design, meaning the ship will be considerably smaller than existing guard vessels. The smaller size creates a number of opportunities, such as using batteries due to reduced propulsion requirements. Additionally, the reduced power and lack of onboard crew leads to lower operational costs.

“We are pleased we were able to develop a battery-powered design, ensuring the Autonomous Guard Vessel is free of harmful emissions,” said Rolph Hijdra, Autonomous Research Lead at C-Job Naval Architects. “Additionally, the ship has solar panels across the top which allows for the continuation of navigation and communications in case the batteries run out of power. Contrary to current guard vessels, the AGV will continue to be operational even with rough sea conditions and have minimal underwater noise owing to the smaller size, reduced propulsion requirements, and absence of a diesel engine.”

The vessel will recharge its batteries via a charging station. The charging station can be moored independently or connected to existing equipment onsite. Depending on the situation, charging could either be via a cable connection to the onsite equipment such as an offshore transformer platform or locally generated using renewable fuels.

The consortium envisions an offshore site will need a number of Autonomous Guard Vessels, which can take turns in monitoring the area and recharging.

“The Autonomous Guard Vessels will be constantly patrolling the area and take turns recharging,” said Harm Mulder, Operations Manager at SeaZip Offshore Service. “One fully charged AGV will remain on standby supporting operations if a situation arises. For example, when an intrusion is detected—one of the AGVs will monitor, warn, and escort the intruding ship to safety, while the others continue normal operations. Alternatively, it could take over from a monitoring vessel in case the battery runs out of power.”

While the consortium continues to work on the vessel design, it has considered human intervention for the unmanned vessel. According to the consortium, conventional guard vessels patrolling offshore structures, from installation through to decommissioning, have few incidents that require intervention from those onboard the vessel. For those exceptional circumstances where human intervention would be required, the Autonomous Guard Vessel will be connected to a Command Center which could control the AGV remotely to ensure correct action is taken. In addition, all data collected will be sent to the Command Center. This can be a standalone on a mother ship or a shore-based station.

“Smart vessel technology will have the most significant initial impact on small workboats, such as this guard vessel,” said Frank Relou, Business Development Manager at Sea Machines. “The development of autonomous technology for vessel operations are occurring on an international level but namely in niche segments, such as the guard vessel and other examples, currently operating in (with supervised autonomy), marine survey, fire, patrol, aquaculture, and offshore wind operations.”

Additional key features of the Autonomous Guard Vessel include:

  • Battery-powered: 12 hours of continuous operations would require 174 kWh battery capacity. However, alternative options of the number of hours of operations vs. battery packs are still being explored
  • Solar panels across the top to ensure continuation of navigation and communications in case the batteries run out of power
  • Length: 11.7 m (38.4 ft)
  • Breadth: 2.07 m (6.79 ft)
  • Depth 1.50 m (4.92 ft)
  • Draught: 0.55 m (1.8 ft)
  • Max. interception speed: 15 knots
  • Two independent drive lines for redundancy
  • Unlimited communication range
  • Equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance system for effective and reliable evidence collection
  • Search and Rescue (SAR) modus life raft onboard which can be deployed in emergencies
  • Environmental surveillance modus
  • Collision Avoidance modus for fixed structures
  • AGV is self-righting, meaning that in extreme conditions the vessel will restore to its upright condition after a capsizing event takes place
  • Full AGV is able to be stored and transported in a 40-ft (12-m) container
  • Equipped with single point of lifting for maintenance purposes without human beings onboard
  • Towing bids forward and aft

For more information, visit www.c-job.com.